Common Name: Stinging Nettle
Botanical Name: Urtica spp.
Energetics: Cool, dry
Taste: Bland, salty, astringent
Actions: Nutritive tonic, astringent, diuretic
The Nettles of the Southwest are a water loving bunch, and the sight of a patch is a sure indication that there’s a river or spring nearby. They frequently grow in large colonies set back from a river in the shade of Cottonwoods or Junipers. With their square stems and jagged heart-shaped leaves, they are easily mistaken for a mint family plant, at least until you touch one. Most people use the common perennial Urtica dioica, but it is the annual Mountain Nettle, U. gracilenta, that populates our New Mexico canyon and that I primarily work with. The uses are identical and besides some differences in appearance, I find them to be basically interchangeable.
I’ve loved Nettles for a long time and have used her medicine in all sorts of ways, as a nourishing mineral packed infusion, as a vibrant bang of green tincture, as an itch soothing salve, as the worlds best green, as a garden fertilizer and even as an aid to awareness when I’ve obliviously stepped into her midst. And although Nettles is one of the very first plants I ever allied with as a child, I’m still learning new and amazing things about its many ways of healing. With my personal history of stimulant and alcohol abuse, it’s no wonder my adrenals have suffered a great deal. By the time I hit my mid-twenties I was deep in burnout – exhausted constantly, unable to digest most foods with multiple food sensitivities and allergies, chronic pain, brain fog, ongoing urinary tract and yeast infections and massive hormonal imbalance. Dietary and lifestyle changes helped a great deal in removing the underlying issues that were causing my discomfort, but it is Nettle that nourished me when I could only eat a few foods and Nettle that gave me the energy to get out of bed in the morning. My recovery was greatly quickened by my constant ingestion of Nettle’s nutrient rich leaves and broth, and to this day, the very sight of vibrant green Nettle plants makes me smile with relief and gratitude.
Beyond my own profound experiences with this vital herb, it is one of the single most frequently used herbs in my clinical practice. Every part of the plant is a powerful medicine, from seed to root to leaf, and its wide range of applications makes it an invaluable element of my work. Nettles in any form taken internally are an excellent aid in mineralizing the body, boosting energy, regulating blood sugar levels, calming allergies, draining dampness (water retention, drippy sinuses, gout etc), reinforcing the immune system and even helping heal kidney and bladder problems as well as myriad other uses.
Dried Nettle leaves are wonderful taken as a daily nourishing infusion to restore energy and a general feeling of well-being to just about anyone, but especially those dealing with burnout, adrenal stress or lowered immunity. On their own, Nettle leaves can be quite drying and care should be taken here in the already dry SW to add a mucilaginous herb such as Elm or Mallow to the infusion formulae of constitutionally dry individuals. Conversely, fresh cooked Nettle greens (of U. gracilenta) actually seem to be very demulcent on their own, making them a great Summer food for the overheated denizens of New Mexico.
My favorite way to ingest Nettles is as a food made from the fresh green tops of young (not yet flowered) Nettles. They make a superior cooked green, pesto or addition to any stew or soup. Many people compare its flavor to Spinach, which I think is an insult to both plants. In fact, it is milder in flavor than Spinach and much more pleasant in texture to my admittedly biased palette. It’s a great addition to chicken soup, miso soup, mashed potatoes or turnips, pizza, eggs, lasagna and many stir-fries. It mixes very nicely with cream cheese for a tasty veggie dip and can also be added to almost any savory sauce for texture, flavor and nutrition.
Fresh Nettle leaf tincture is an excellent aid in helping the body to switch from catabolic dominance to anabolic dominance, thus assisting the body in repairing and restoring overall health, especially for those who suffer from adrenal burnout. It doesn’t contain the minerals that the infusion or food does due to alcohol’s inability to extract them, but it is still a great medicine. I like to drink Nettle infusion with a squirt or two of the fresh plant tincture as an overall restorative energy tonic.
Preparations: Fresh plant tincture of young leafy tops. Dried young leafy tops.
Cautions & Contradictions: Nettles can be drying to those of us living in the arid Southwest or individuals with very dry constitutions. If you feel that Nettles is too drying for you, try adding a bit of Licorice, Mallow root or Asparagus root to your infusion or formula. It won’t improve the taste but it will certainly moisten up the mix.
Also, some people react to Nettle leaf in any form with a severe headache. If this occurs, discontinue use. Avoid fresh plant preparations (cooked doesn’t count) in pregnancy due to the possibility of stimulating the uterus.
Personal Correspondence with Jim McDonald
Medicinal Plants of the Pacific West by Michael Moore
Healing Wise by Susun Weed
Common Name: Stinging Nettle
Botanical Name: Urtica spp.
Actions: Kidney and adrenal trophorestorative, adaptogen, astringent
Stinging Nettle’s has a remarkable ability to rebuild and restore. Part of this comes from the fact that it is intensely nutritive, being dense with minerals, vitamins and antioxidants. Nettle’s nourishing properties have been discussed at length by many authors, perhaps most notably by Susun Weed in her book, Healing Wise.
A less explored aspect of this common plant, is its capacity as an adaptogen and adrenal trophorestorative. According to Winston and Kuhn in their book, Herbal Therapy & Supplements, these terms can be defined as:
“Trophorestorative: An herb that nourishes, strengthens, and tonifies a specific organ or function. Considered”food for the organ”. Hawthorn, with its specificity for the heart and circulatory system, is a cardiovascular trophorestorative. Examples: fresh oat (nervous system), nettle seed (kidney).”
“Adaptogen: A substance that helps a living organism adapt to stress (environmental, physical, or psychological). “
My personal experiences with Nettle would indicate that both of the above terms suit this remarkable plant very well. Winston and Kuhn specify Nettle seed as a trophorestorative for the kidneys, and I believe they may also serve the same function for the adrenals as well. Dried seed, when taken (chewed well, or ground) orally, promotes a sense of clarity, wellness, heightened energy levels, reduced stress and seemingly increased lung capacity. They are especially effective for those suffering from severe burnout, resulting in profound fatigue, brain fog, chronic pain and alternating feelings of depression and intense anxiety. Nettle seed can lessen all of these symptoms, and sometimes eliminate them completely. For some people, they can dramatically effect or shift perception, promoting a sense of connectedness, well-being and mild euphoria. Physical and mental stamina is usually increased, and exertion may seem more enjoyable to the individual. Several people have reported having their sense of color brightened and expanded, probably due to the mood altering effects.
An overlarge dose may cause a sense of “speediness”, much like other tonic herbs such as Ginseng, so care should be taken that an appropriate dose is used. In sensitive individuals, this may only be a small pinch and can range up to a tablespoon. Others may need to take a teaspoon per day for a week or so to notice significant effects, although results are usually noticed within a few days. I recommend starting with a small dose and working up as needed. These seeds do not seem to promote any kind of dependence, and smaller and smaller doses are needed over time. Unlike simple stimulants, one does not “crash” on Nettle seeds when their effect wears off (usually 4-7 hours after ingestion), and appropriate rest and relaxation is actually often enhanced by their use.
Ingestion of fresh seeds my cause intense feelings of stimulation and can prevent sleep, so they should probably be avoided by those sensitive to stimulants, although fresh fully ripe seed tincture has been used in renal failure as a kidney trophorestorative by herbalists such as David Winston. Dried seeds are milder in action and more adaptogenic in action. Tincture of dried seed is also useful, though less ideal than dried seed since alcohol does not effectively extract the trace minerals. I’ve used the tincture much less than the whole seed, but in my experience most individuals only need 1-5 drops of the tincture for this application. This can be combined with tincture of fresh Nettle tops, to increase the restorative effect on the adrenals.
This particular use of Stinging Nettle is not yet well known or often used, so we must assume that there’s much more to learn and understand about its profound effect on the kidneys, adrenals and body as a whole. So far, the results have been very gratifying for herbalists already familiar with Nettle leaf’s gentle yet deep effect on depletion. I am personally very excited to continue developing my relationship with this common and endlessly versatile herb.
While Nettle leaf and root can be too diuretic (and therefore drying) for those already dealing with systemic dryness or yin deficiency, the seed seems much less drying and more supplementing in action. Nevertheless, care should be taken not to aggravate a dry condition, and practitioners may consider recommending a demulcent such as Elm, Flax or Mallow be taken concurrently with Nettle. A nervous system trophorestorative such as Milky Oat tincture may also be recommended alongside Nettle seed to quicken and deepen healing and restoration.
I have also used Nettle seed as a kidney trophorestorative in a couple cases now, most noticeably in a woman with lupus, who had been slowly going into kidney failure after a year of constant stress and flareups. At the start of treatment with the Nettle seeds she was getting labwork done every couple of weeks and when she began the Nettle her kidney function was at borderline functioning/very low but within about a month on the Nettle she slowly climbed back to a low normal range. After three months, complete function had returned despite the ongoing flareup.
Tincture vs. Plain Seed
I feel that Nettle seed tincture exercises a tonifying effect upon the adrenals, and we know that it works very well as a kidney trophorestorative, certainly making a medicine of primary importance. My experience leads me to believe that the raw seeds eaten (chewed well) do have a more immediate invigorating effect with a fuller range of restorative effects along the lines of other adaptogens. I suppose this is likely to be true for nearly any adaptogen or similar herb, considering that at least some of their important effects stem in part from the intense nutrition present in such plants.
My current approach is to use the raw seed when possible and practical and the tincture for those less compliant or in applicable formulas.
Nettle seed can be made more palatable for those who find the taste to be unpleasant or the texture a bit too exotic for them. High quality Nettle seed should be vibrant green, fluffy, light and mildly green in taste. I rather enjoy them, but understand that not everyone has quite the sense of adventure I do. Honey pills can easily be made by mixing a dose of seed with some raw honey. You can also make a yummy energy ball by mixing the seeds with varying proportions of nut butter, honey, chocolate, coconut and spices. Just don’t overdo the sweet/stimulant aspect of this or you’ll end up counteracting the adrenally restorative aspects of the medicine. The seeds can also be added to smoothies, salads, homemade mayo, omelettes and so on. Think of it as a very intense food and use it as such, as this is the approach that most traditional peoples have always taken with tonic medicines.
Dosage: I take a small pinch of the seeds 1-3x/day but others recommend 1 tsp. – 1tb. and I’ve noticed that some other people don’t feel much at my dosage. I begin clients with a tsp. and go from there.